Rugby World Cup 2019 Contenders: Ireland

Tadhg Furlong

Twelve months out from the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Ireland appeared the likeliest side to dethrone New Zealand. They had power and precision, confidence and know-how, steel and guts.

Fast forward to present day and the chances of the boys in green leaving Japan with the Webb Ellis trophy seem rather improbable.

Last November, Joe Schmidt’s team put in a stirring performance to down the All Blacks in Dublin, Jacob Stockdale crossing for the only try of the match. That monumental triumph had everyone suggesting they could be the next country to conquer the globe. A 57-15 drubbing at the hands of England on Saturday has led to claims that they’ll be lucky to make a first ever semi-final appearance.

Such assertions are over the top, merely knee-jerk reactions to a freak result. The Irish were dire at Twickenham – there is no argument to be made in that regard – but the defeat doesn’t end their hopes of glory in November.

If a squad can blitz their way to a Six Nations Grand Slam, they will always be in contention for a World Cup that comes just a year and a half later. They’ve proved their capabilities, it’s simply about getting them fit and firing for the main event. Knowing Schmidt, with his combination of tactical nous and strong motivational skills, Ireland are in a good hands as they look to rediscover their self-belief.

The Kiwi also has a fine collection of players at his disposal; should he succeed in getting them back on their feet, he will be left with a team that could threaten the very best in the world. There’s experience in the ranks, as well as raw talent. That’s a healthy mixture to have going into such a high-pressure situation.

In Tadgh Furlong, Schmidt has arguably the greatest tighthead on the planet. With Jack McGrath bolstering the left side of the front row, Iain Henderson adding energy behind, and the likes of CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony lurking on the flanks, it should be clear to see that this Irish side have a fearsome pack. What’s more, those five all played a role in the Lions against-all-odds draw with New Zealand in 2017. They can do it when the margin for error is zero, they can do it when under heavy scrutiny.

As we’ve mentioned, there are also young bolters involved. Lock James Ryan was colossal in 2018 and continues to stand out amongst teammates for tireless all-action displays. Josh van der Flier may be 26-years-old and sitting on just a handful of caps, but the Leinster forward will push hard for a starting berth as he aims to displace some of the old guard in the back row. There’s competition for places, a number of knowledgeable players and several wild cards looking to make an impact.

The qualities of Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray are well-documented; the half-back pairing pull all the strings for Schmidt, orchestrating play and manoeuvring Ireland into dangerous positions. They’re both available and that will always mean Ireland have a chance of victory.

Outside of that marvellous duo are three superb options in the midfield. Bundee Aki is a bustling ball-carrier with a delicate pair of hands, Garry Ringrose has the guile and pace to slice through any backline, and Robbie Henshaw can do it all. With that trio being fed by Sexton, Ireland can definitely harm opponents in the backs.

And who are the beneficiaries of their work? The lethal finishers that hand out wide. Stockdale is one of the deadliest wingers around, whilst Keith Earls has always known his way to the try-line.

There is clear reason to think this squad can show the last six months to be a blip; with few obvious areas of weakness, it must be mindset that has derailed them in recent times. All they need is the immense confidence that saw them take the All Black scalp last autumn. However, finding it is easier said than done.

By Ed Alexander

15 thoughts on “Rugby World Cup 2019 Contenders: Ireland

  1. Be interesting to see how they get on against Wales at the weekend.

    Wales fielding a team with 14 changes but they are mostly familiar names, should be a good un.

    1. Apparently Ireland will be fielding an under strength team too but after last week I get the feeling it might be a little less under strength then Schmidt was previously planning

  2. After last week you’d say “no chance ” but we all know that wasn’t the real Ireland out at HQ.
    Schmidt is a canny operator and the Irish have got a lot of talent. F/half may be a weak spot but I think they will be in the semis and then anything can happen.

  3. Anyone else feel that Furlong has underwealmed over the last year or so? Also CJ Stander? With those two not making quite the impact in close quarters, they seem to stall. I think Henshaw is important to give them a bit more go forward in the 3/4s

    1. I am very surprised by Furlongs drop off but I think his class will shine through in the end.

      CJ Stander I have always felt is/was a flat track bully.

      1. Agree with SJ – Furlong seems to be an excellent player who is going through a drop in form whereas Stander only shines rarely and that normally only seems to be when Ireland are comfortably on top.

        As for world’s best tighthead, if he can keep his rage from boiling over too much, this RWC is set up perfectly for Sinckler. He’s strong in the carry and at the ruck, has wonderfully deft hands and awareness for a prop and is now adding some very strong scrummaging to his portfolio.

        With both him and Furlong only 26, their best years are yet to come and it’ll be great to watch them both progress

  4. The gist of the article is that Ireland aren’t past it. Nxt Sat might have revealed more, but if 1st lines teams aren’t selected, then it might not. The Irish team, last skittled by England, was similar to the one which beat NZ in Dublin. As also stated, Ireland won a GS a yr ago. However, this yr Ireland fell over in the 6N, incl @ home to England. The recent hammering makes 3 serious losses in a row. They have the hallmarks of a slide to me. It is possible for Schmidt to turn it round I suppose. The team is experienced. Apart from 3 (I think) whom are 30 or over, the rest are in their 20 something’s. So it shouldn’t be, Best apart perhaps, an age thing. Therefore, is it a lack of preparation? Or ‘rust’? Possibly, although Schmidt, as a meticulous planner, makes the former seem unlikely. Maybe the latter then? It’s hard to say, but whatever it is, Ireland really need to go back to basics & eradicate errors. 34 (38?) missed tackles! Was it 5 Iineouts lost? Also lost the breakdown by a mile? These have to be fixed fast. By nxt @ the latest. And I t won’t be easier away in Cardiff. Ireland might turn it round. Actually, they have to. Another beating & their previous reputation will be gone. I’m unconvinced by Ireland’s past record. The manner of their last 3 defeats & in fairly rapid succession, is as alarming as it is damaging IMO. It’s about the hear & now, so we’ll see.

    1. Agree that Irelands problems run deeper than a single bad day at the office but not sure exactly where the problem lies.
      Has plan A been found out and there is no plan B
      Has Schmidt lost the dressing room
      Are key players suffering with some sort of fatigue/form issues
      Hopefully Schmidt knows where the problem lies and is already addressing it

      1. I wonder if it’s related to Andy Farrell being announced as Schmidt’s replacement. A possible clash of coaching styles. Ireland definitely look like they don’t have an identity at the moment.

      2. Don’t know what the stats were, but I think that Ireland had some share of possession? However when England had possession, they scored 8 tries!? Overall, this suggests an absence of Irish defence & breakdown presence. This being so, Ireland must fix the latter. This will help by gaining, or hindering, more ball. It should also relieve some defencive pressure. Repeating, but that line out too. Just fix it.. or throw short. A team can only play as well as the opposition let them, but there are things, such as the aforementioned, that they can do to help themselves. The worrying thing for them is how Ireland got themselves into their predicament in the 1st place. It’s as if they’ve hit some sort of invisible wall. Don t know how Farrell’s input & Schmidt’s impending departure influence things, but mentally, morale wise they just haven’t looked @ the races this yr.

  5. I think Ireland have made a poor decision in appointing Farrell as Head Coach just for the pure fact he hasn’t been the main man before and lest we forget he’s the Defensive Coach for Ireland so needs to shoulder some blame for the game last weekend, also with any sport I think you need to cut your teeth at club level first.

    All the talk is about Scotland being upset by losing to Japan in the group stages but is it too fanciful to think that the Irish could be the victim given the comments about problems running deeper than we think?

    Looking at the groups sure if Ireland do get out the group with New Zealand or South Africa (possibly) waiting in the Quarters they still may miss out on that elusive Semi.

  6. Whilst filling in time @ Nero’s, saw T’graph’s Tom Cary following comments about Ireland’s form.
    1) As mentioned here, was Farrell’s appointment announcement premature & was he too assertive?
    2) Their WC history has caused stutters before, although 2015 had mitigating injuries, but is it happening again?
    3) Schmidt’s micro management isn’t for all, hence loss of talent like Zebo.
    3) In 2018 their game may have been worked out. Error free, kick n’ chase, via Sexton. Now being beaten @ breakdown, set piece, aerially.
    4) Over reliance on too few players. Built some , but enough with say, Aki, CJ?
    5) Does Ireland have hit back ability? Can they improve (in time) for WC?

    Well, I dunno, but possible food for JS?

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